It was over a year ago when I was that nervous the last time. I had the honor to talk about things that can go wrong when overtaking support, change management and/or hosting for a WordPress installation that you didn’t do yourself. We’ve been asked to do than quite a lot now. Also, I had the chance to participate in the panel with other swiss agencies. So after Noel and I were finally able to plug-in the VGA by force, I told the audience how much things can go wrong. Heh.
So first things first: When I first practiced my speech, I was talking to myself for about an hour. Because it’s a very interesting topic, and there are so many examples, what can go wrong (or at least what unexpected stuff can happen). Of course, it greatly depends on the type of website, size and what you’re going to do for your client, but most of those questions can prevent bad things from happening.
Now, here’s the actual presentation (and here’s the slideshare version if it). It’s a link to the google presentation, which has comments enabled. Feel free to ask questions or add information to the list. And: I needed to remove the sweet pug, since I’m not sure if this image if available for free use.
But now, let me add a few more thoughts and examples:
- „Is there a documentation?“
This can be very helpful to understand what features the website has, how the code works etc. Any kind of documentation might help you.
- „Does the customer make changes on his own?“
I think I stated that clearly enough. If you’re a developer and you don’t do content editing, consider subcontracting that task. Or keep the hands of that project.
- „How did you test your software?“
Once again: If you’re asking a developer, ask it that way. If you’d ask me if I tested, I’d beat yo‘ ass.
- „How much traffic does the site have?“
Depending on how you host, this might be a good thing to ask, even if the customer has frontend caching plugins enabled. If you’re hosting with a 5$ company, there might be a slight difference in running a „1’000 visits per day“ or a „1’000’000 visits per day“-website. Also very interesting: Look at the logs if possible. We’ve once had an installation that was bruteforced nearly 24/7, resultung in a few million requests per day. 99.9% was blocked, though it used up a lot of traffic and cpu resources.
- „Where and how is it installed?“, „Is there a test/deployment system?“
Normally, you won’t face any difficulties here. But there are some managed hosters, where it’s not so easy do deploy changes to the website. At least, with bigger websites you’ll often see git/github deployments or even more sophisticated tools in use. If you don’t know those tools: Learn how to use them, or keep your hands off.
- „Are there paid plugins / license keys?“
Just so you don’t have to start a war with the previous developer/agency/freelancer. Ask this, and count the license costs to your budget, if you have to buy them again.
- „Closed source plugins?“
Now that is a complicated one and I didn’t say anything about that in my talk. The reason: It’s a very rare occasion. Believe me when I tell you, that there are (especially) agencies developing their own frameworks as plugins, but they’d tell you it’s „closed source“ once you want to move. So probably you have to do everything new, because the theme doesn’t work without that framework plugin. Now you’d say: A plugin within WordPress can’t be closed source, since … uh, GPL. Well. You’re not wrong, but the developer’s an…nevermind. GPL or not, they possibly can (and would) still go to court, which can cost a lot more (time and money) than an all new website.
- „Take a look at the code (and install locally)“
Even though this will take some time, it’s always a good thing to analyze the code you’re going to have to maintain for the next 3 – 5 years. And always keep in mind to add some „bugfixing“ budget upfront. You’ll almost always need that.
- „How is the compatibility?“
What I meant here is basically how the theme is developed. Did the developer correctly use filters and actions or are there more complex things, like an override of the gallery shortcode, nav menu walkers, which may break after core updates. Good thing is: Since WordPress has very solid backwards compatibility, sometimes even the worst things won’t fail after a core update.
- „PHP / Frontend Frameworks?“
This is mostly about frontend frameworks, like SASS, Compass, Grunt, Gulp etc. if the theme or plugins are set up to only be editable with a correct installation of those frameworks, make sure to know them. Else, you might not be able to minify JS or compile SCSS files. I have like 5 VMs covering all sort’s of frameworks – Some of them even need different versions of ruby (and gems), so even with RVM it’s next to impossible to get different setups running on one machine.